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BWW Review: BEING MR WICKHAM, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds Online

Jane Austen's famous villain is revisited in this witty monologue

BWW Review: BEING MR WICKHAM, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds Online

BWW Review: BEING MR WICKHAM, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds Online Mr Wickham is best known as the villain of Jane Austen's iconic novel Pride and Prejudice; a dastardly rake who seduced Elizabeth's impetuous younger sister Lydia and threatened to bring the whole family into disrepute. Adrian Lukis, who played Wickham in the seminal 1995 BBC series, now returns to the character in Being Mr Wickham, a highly engaging one-man play, streamed live from the country's last Regency theatre, the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.

Austen's novel sets Wickham up as a handsome charmer, but he is revealed to be both duplicitous and irresponsible. Co-written by Lukis, along with Catherine Curzon, the play is set on the eve of his sixtieth birthday, as Wickham settles in his study, brandy in hand looking back at the years since his marriage to Lydia, the chaos of his life, the gambling dens of London and the ladies he has tried to bed. It is also a monologue of self-defense. He admits to being a cad and a bounder who spends his life getting by on his wits, but also how he has survived, despite not being born into any money of his own.

Lukis and Curzon have developed Wickham very naturally; he retains the fun, the wit and the engagement of the man that beguiled so many characters in the book, but he is also given depth and range courtesy of the natural and effortless storytelling.

A reconciliation with Darcy is suggested: the two have grown older, had families and Wickham says they can see each other almost as fondly as they did when they were children. Surprisingly, Wickham and Lydia are still together, and familiar characters from the book are often mentioned.

This is also history from Wickham's perspective. He reveals that Darcy ordered him not to become a vicar, rather than he himself choosing to abscond from the role. He states that he saved Lydia's reputation by marrying her and very much believes his own version of events.

Certain moments feel notably genuine, such as his fear and trepidation as he recalls being sent to a cold and violent school in Dartmouth while Darcy was sent to Eton. The story of him being slightly overcome with admiration at seeing Lord Byron at the theatre is very funny, setting Wickham up as a truly star-struck fan.

Lukis is suave and smooth with a voice like warm honey. His presence is incredibly natural and feels like a private confession to the audience. He moves quite seamlessly between the three cameras with the playfulness of a character who feels so familiar. Lukis inhabits Wickham with a roguish charisma as he defends his dubious reputation; he is still the character we love to hate, but he is also someone by whom you are utterly charmed.

Guy Unsworth's direction makes the production feel very intimate. Libby Watson's simple set of a Regency-influenced study is sufficient to enable the storytelling, but the decision to reverse the staging, with the empty seats of the beautiful theatre as the backdrop, is fantastic. The emptiness is slightly haunting, but also reminds the audience of what it is like to be inside an actual theatre.

As an online production, it works incredibly well and it will be interesting to see how it translates with a live audience present to react to the witty asides. This is a charming and captivating hour spent with the old rogue.

Being Mr Wickham is live streaming from Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds on May 1

Photo Credit: James Findlay

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